It's probably safe to assume that most peakbaggers heading to California's Trinity Alps for the first time are seeking Thompson Peak, the highpoint of the wilderness, and one of the most "prominent" peaks in the state.
But those who approach Thompson Peak from Canyon Creek Lakes will no doubt find their attentions wandering to the spectacular granitic peak seen to the northwest on that approach, half a mile south of Thompson Peak. It is named Wedding Cake, and although it stands 400' lower than its more famous neighbour immediately to the north, it is undoubtedly a more impressive and beautiful sight. The peak's east face is dramatically steep, and if it were located any closer to the road and civilisation, it would no doubt be scarred with bolts. Even its easiest route appears to be class 3 with some route-finding, via weaknesses on its west side.
Wedding Cake is most easily climbed in conjunction with Thompson Peak, and adds only an hour round trip to a climb of that peak. Despite Thompson Peak's popularity, it seems that most visitors out here ignore Wedding Cake. As of July 2005, there was no summit register, not even a summit cairn--just the satisfaction of standing atop a remote, obscure, and rarely visited summit with expansive views of some of the most beautiful scenery in Northern California, if not the entire state: Thompson Peak and Caesar Cap Peak to the north and northeast, the equally impressive Sawtooth Mountain to the southeast, and Mt. Hilton and several other craggy, unnamed peaks to the south.
The peak's unusual name is somewhat hard to explain. One might assume that it was named for some resemblance to a wedding cake, and indeed Moss' "Trinity Alps Companion" offers this very theory: "I suppose it got its name because that's what it looks like from some angles--well, maybe not a whole wedding cake, just a slice. There might be a better story out there, but I've yet to hear it." I'd have to opine that it looks nothing like any wedding cake--or even slice thereof--that I've ever seen, from any perspective. So your guess is as good as mine.
Wedding Cake is most easily approached out of the Canyon Creek Lakes trailhead. From I-5 in Redding, follow SR 299 west for roughly 53 miles to the small hamlet of Junction City, eight miles west of Weaverville. Turn right (north) onto Canyon Creek Road, and follow it for 13.5 narrow, winding miles to its end. (The turnoff is located just east of Junction City, and isn't all that easy to spot on a first visit. If you pass through town, you've missed it, and should turn around and try again).
Hike up the trail for roughly eight miles to Upper Canyon Creek Lake, and continue cross-country up the drainage to the cirque below Wedding Cake, Thompson Peak, and Caesar Peak. Gain the saddle between Wedding Cake and Thompson Peak, and follow the ridge south to the summit, climbing it via a class 3 gully on the west side. Round trip stats are approximately 20 miles and 6,000' gain. Please consult the route page for details.
A wilderness permit is required for overnight visits, and a separate campfire permit is required if you wish to have a fire. Contact Shasta-Trinity National Forest to obtain these. As of 2005, there are no quotas, and self-issue permits can be picked up at the Weaverville Ranger Station, located at 210 Main Street, Weaverville; phone (530) 623-2121.
The Canyon Creek trail receives the heaviest visitation of any place in the wilderness, so consider dayhiking the peak to reduce the impact on this beautiful but overused area.
When To Climb
The usual climbing season in the Trinities is fairly short, typically late June through October in most years. Depending on weather patterns, the Trinity Alps might make a good storm-free alternative to the Sierra when the latter range is hit by monsoonal moisture during the summer months. (By the way, you won't be missing out on anything scenery-wise by heading up here... the Trinity Alps are strikingly similar to the Sierra in geology and terrain, and arguably equally as beautiful).
Wedding Cake has also been approached as part of an April ski tour, although needless to say, one should be extremely wary of avalanche conditions at this time of year.
The approach via Canyon Creek Lakes passes through expansive meadows, which would be boggy in early season (June - early July). These were still wet in places but mostly passable by the end of July in a heavy snow year (2005), with some beautiful wildflowers at this time too. Early season climbs would also face some difficult stream crossings en route. Late summer/fall are thus the easiest time to climb.
Camping, Lodging, and Grub
Numerous campsites are found in the vicinity of the Lower and Upper Canyon Creek Lakes, including some spectacular sites overlooking the upper lake at its southern end. These are very popular--the Canyon Creek Lakes trail is the most heavily travelled trail in the wilderness--but more secluded options can be found in the upper regions of the drainage above the lakes. Only a small minority of visitors to the lakes continue past them.
Car camping is found at Ripstein Campground, a couple of miles before the trailhead. Bivy options can also be found at the trailhead.
The best choices for cheap lodging and food in the area are found in Redding. Food-wise, particularly recommended are the Black Bear Diner (open until 11pm most nights, midnight on Sat and Sun; exit from I-5 on Cypress Ave--many fast food places are found here also), and Puerto Vallarta, a very good Mexican place along SR 299 (Eureka Way)--nice fajitas and margaritas!
NWS Forecast for Weaverville. (Keep in mind that the peak stands several thousand feet higher.)
Unfortunately, during 2005 there were several reports of vandalism on cars parked at the Canyon Creek Lakes trailhead. This is a popular and frequently accessed trailhead, so make sure any valuables are well hidden in your vehicle.